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Volunteers Will Turn On Ye Olde Charm at Festival


Natalie Beatie of Gardena works as a salesclerk at a Los Angeles industrial supply company, but this weekend she will don the trappings of 16th-Century England and help transform Long Beach's Shoreline Park into an Olde English village.

The Renaissance festival is arriving, and for two days, Beatie and other volunteers will have the chance to become any character they choose--peasant, noble, gypsy, craftsman, minstrel and others. Beatie, a five-year festival veteran, plays a brewer's wife in a group of traveling merchants.

The Long Beach Renaissance Arts Festival, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, seeks to re-create a spring celebration during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, complete with royal feasts, mock battles, parades, folk pageants, traditional games and fortunetellers.

Eighty booths, surrounding the Rainbow Lagoon at Shoreline Park, will have food and drink to satisfy the hungriest knight. And dozens of vendors will sell everything from swords and daggers to jewelry and handmade garlands.

The festival is a fund-raiser for the Traveler's Aid Society, a United Way agency that assists the homeless. The event, which attracted about 12,000 people last year, raises an average of $23,000 for the homeless each year.

It relies on about 600 volunteer performers to add an authentic flavor and interact with customers. Although some pageants are scripted, most of the actors improvise at the Long Beach festival.

The "Royal Court" is also made up of volunteer actors. This year's "royalty" will include King James, who ruled Scotland during Elizabeth's reign and assumed her throne when she died without an heir in 1603; his Queen, Ann of Denmark; the Irish Queen and her entourage, and the King of Denmark.

Performers pride themselves on making sure costumes are authentic and that accessories, from drinking cups to metalwork, could be created from the technology and tools of the Elizabethan era. They often chide festival-goers for wearing "strange bejeweled blindfolds" (sunglasses, of course), and athletic shoes that show the person is no doubt dealing with "a shady pirate who doth sail from the Far East."

Many performers spend summer weekends at festivals across the state, including San Marcos, San Bernardino, Long Beach and San Luis Obispo. Some festival organizers pay performers, but the sums usually don't exceed lunch money.

Transforming into a different character, with name, background and attitude developed by the performer, is a unique creative outlet, Beatie said.

"Creating a character allows you the freedom to do things that you wouldn't ordinarily do," she said. "It's a real release for me, a break from the humdrum of everyday life."

The Long Beach Renaissance Arts Festival is on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Rainbow Lagoon, near Pine Avenue and Shoreline Drive. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for seniors, $2 for children 5 through 12. Children under 5 are free. Information: (310) 437-0751.

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